Scientists at Rajendra Memorial Research Institute of Medical Sciences (RMRIMS) here have developed a new tool kit for fast diagnosis of kala-azar from sputum of patients instead of their blood samples.
Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, supposed to launch the tool kit in the state capital on Thursday, could not come because of some engagements. The launch was deferred by a few days.
The new method would drastically reduce the time taken in giving reports confirming the disease, which would allow doctors to start early treatment. RMRIMS is due to patent this diagnostic kit, which, till now, has helped diagnose this disease in 2,000 patients with 95 per cent accuracy.
Termed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) a neglected disease, kala-azar or visceral leishmaniasis in medical jargon puts an estimated 165.4 million people at risk in Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bengal.
Caused by female sandflies, India accounts for 90 per cent of total cases of kala-azar worldwide, while Bihar accounts for 90 per cent of cases in the country. In 2005, the state government had targeted to eliminate kala-azar by 2010, later extended to 2015.
RMRIMS director Pradeep Das said: “Earlier, suspected patients were hesitant in giving blood for diagnosis of kala-azar, as extraction from the bone marrow made the process a little difficult and a skilled personnel was needed. However, the new kit is much easier to handle and doesn’t require blood samples, so people readily agree for the test. In 10-15 minutes, the result of the tests is known, reducing the time taken from hours it used to take earlier. This method is more cost-effective and requires only Rs 50-Rs 60, while a patient earlier had to dole out Rs 100 or more. This would greatly benefit the poor, the worst sufferers of kala-azar.”
Dharmendra Singh, a scientist from RMRIMS, said visceral leishmaniasis cases have been on the decline in the state, while cases of post kala-azar dermal leishmaniasis have increased. “The new kit would help in early diagnosis of the disease and its early treatment,” he said.
BJP leader and kala-azar expert Dr C.P. Thakur hoped that if the central and state governments make determined efforts, kala-azar could be eliminated from the country by 2015.
Dr Thakur said: “Kala-azar is spreading to newer districts, including Patna, triggering concern. Tomorrow, I will write a letter to the Prime Minister, asking for central assistance.”